Phosphorus mirabilis: illuminating the past and future of phosphorus stewardship

Jarvie, Helen P.; Sharpley, Andrew N.; Flaten, Don; Kleinman, Peter J.A.. 2019 Phosphorus mirabilis: illuminating the past and future of phosphorus stewardship. Journal of Environmental Quality, 48 (5). 1127-1132.

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After its discovery in 1669, phosphorus (P) was named Phosphorus mirabilis (“the miraculous bearer of light”), arising from the chemoluminescence when white P is exposed to the atmosphere. The metaphoric association between P and light resonates through history: from the discovery of P at the start of the Enlightenment period to the vital role of P in photosynthetic capture of light in crop and food production through to new technologies, which seek to capitalize on the interactions between novel ultrathin P allotropes and light, including photocatalysis, solar energy production, and storage. In this introduction to the Journal of Environmental Quality special section “Celebrating the 350th Anniversary of Discovering Phosphorus—For Better or Worse,” which brings together 22 paper contributions, we shine a spotlight on the historical and emerging challenges and opportunities in research and understanding of the agricultural, environmental, and societal significance of this vital element. We highlight the role of P in water quality impairment and the variable successes of P mitigation measures. We reflect on the need to improve P use efficiency and on the kaleidoscope of challenges facing efficient use of P. We discuss the requirement to focus on place-based solutions for developing effective and lasting P management. Finally, we consider how cross-disciplinary collaborations in P stewardship offer a guiding light for the future, and we explore the glimmers of hope for reconnecting our broken P cycle and the bright new horizons needed to ensure future food, water, and bioresource security for growing global populations.

Item Type: Publication - Article
Digital Object Identifier (DOI):
UKCEH and CEH Sections/Science Areas: Water Resources (Science Area 2017-)
ISSN: 0047-2425
Additional Information. Not used in RCUK Gateway to Research.: Open Access paper - full text available via Official URL link.
NORA Subject Terms: Ecology and Environment
Agriculture and Soil Science
Date made live: 31 Oct 2019 14:32 +0 (UTC)

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